The soft glimmer of the stars shone pale on the highly polished brass implements scattered around the dim room. Only tiny votives competed with those far distant suns for light.
The door hissed, and slammed shut. The square of bright yellow on the floor, marked only with a man’s silhouette, was snuffed out. The man stood quietly at the doorway, his eyes slowly adjusting, his cuirass adding yet another reflective surface for the star’s light to caress.
“Colonel,” the deep, heavily accented voice came from the darkness to the man’s right. He started slightly in spite of himself.
“Lord Marshal.” The Colonel paused, taking a long breath. “Do you often sit alone in the dark.”
“In the dark, Colonel, one can often see what is not visible in the light. I am not dazzled by your famous Bloodcoat, known on a dozen worlds that have never heard of Vostroya or the Firstborn. I am not blinded by your cuirass or your eyes of eagle grey. Yes, Colonel Senekal you are known to me. Your name is often spoken in places where no guard officer’s name should be.” Marshal Harazahn stepped into the dim light of the stars, limned in blue-white starlight on one side, occluding stars on the other. “But, as always there are things I do not know.”
“Why you are here.”
“A world is dying, Lord Marshal. The call to arms went out.”
“And the 4th Danika was well outside the zone in which one could expect an answer. Far outside in fact. So far, that even the fastest supraliminal travel would probably have brought you here too late to take part. And yet here you are. Were I an Inquisitor, I might suspect heresy or some kind of pysker.”
Senekal stepped further into the room. His movements efficient, catlike for all his bulky build. He tossed something atop the low table next to the Highborn. A bushy, greying eyebrow rose.
“An Inquisitorial Rosette? I did not know you had joined one of the Ordos, Colonel.”
“I haven’t. But sometimes I have the misfortune of being asked to do certain things for them. More than the usual Imperial citizen that is. It can be annoying at times.”
“I expect that it would be,” Harazahn replied dryly.
“Inquisitor Coriolis was following someone else he was displeased with. My men and I were dragged most of the way here. When he took off on his own little mission with his covey of Grey Knight Astartes, we were dumped nearby. I’d have stayed there too, all things considered but someone else, a friend, asked a favor of me. Suffice to say that favors such as that are not the sort one says no to. The fact that said favor happens to be coming to a place the Imperium is largely writing off and trying to save as many women and children as we can, well, that makes it pretty much impossible to say no to.
“So, my lord, I am here. I place the 4th Danika at your disposal, in trust that you will place us somewhere where we can serve the citizens of the Imperium and destroy the Emperor’s enemies. If that’s not too much to ask of course.”
Harazahn lifted a pair of heavy metal mugs and filled them from an ancient samovar beneath the star-swept window. Moving back across the room, he handed one to the Colonel and looked at him, the Vostroyan’s pale eyes meeting Senekal’s in the dim light over the rims of their mugs. “With an assignment like this, you think I would turn away anyone? Even Chem Dogs would be welcome. Danikans? Disciplined elites? Really, Colonel!” They sipped from their mugs, Senekal looking a bit surprised. “And are you happy to be working for a Firstborn, Colonel Senekal? Most guardsmen hate it. They fear I will throw their men away as my officers are sometimes wont to do.”
Senekal raised the mug in salute. “This is good, my lord Marshal. What is it?”
“A type of spiced cider from my homeworld. It always reminds me of how much I miss it there,” he sipped himself. “You didn’t answer the question.”
“No, my lord,” Senekal drained his cup and placed it carefully on a shelf. “I didn’t.”
As the hissing door hid the Colonel’s receding back from view, Lord Marshal Graf Harazahn chuckled slightly. He wondered for a moment what thoughts had really passed behind the Danikan’s hooded eyes.
He sipped his cider, and decided that it really didn’t matter. Not if he had judged the Colonel’s measure correctly, and he was fairly sure he had.
* * *
Senekal stood atop the crest of a hill overlooking the Charybdis Crest in the cold northern region of Tisiphone. The wind howled, icing his breastplate. It was even cold enough to make him tug down the knit toque he wore under his officer’s duty cap.
“Does it meet with your approval, old friend?” The shattered voice barely peaked above the shriek of the wind and the hiss of the snow.
Senekal sighed and pulled himself straight. “Someday, you’re going to have to tell me why the hell it is we always meet on top of mountains.”
The ancient voice hissed. It might have been a chuckle. “Are we not giants, to stand tall, our heads scraping the clouds?”
Moving to clasp arms with the huge space marine, Colonel Arcturan Senekal released a genuine laugh. The first the ancient Librarian had heard from him in a long, long time. “You, my friend, are the giant. I swear I’ve lost an inch prancing around in all this war-kit. Some of us haven’t an Astartes’ advanced physique you know!” His smile faded some as he turned back and gestured to the greener valley below. There was a flash, deep in the trees, and a few seconds later faint thunder rolled along the mountainside. “My approval – aye. I suppose it does. Although I wish someone would reign in the bloody Astartes. That madman Carpathia attacked my men you know.”
It was Liche’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “The Ravager of Worlds is here? I hadn’t known.”
“I hadn’t either, we found out though. They’re still repairing two of my Griffons. Idiot.” He sighed. “But yes, despite that I do approve. The position is defensible and we’ve been able to move the refugees easily down the road to the transport hub and landing stages while still protecting them most of the way. It’s good to be saving lives for a change.”
“I thought that might sit well with you. I was very pleased when I found you nearby.”
“Me too, old friend. Now what?”
“Now?” Lord Liche, Chief Librarian of the Void Phantoms Chapter of Space Marines scanned the valley with his warp-troubled eyes, “Now we save whom we can. And destroy the Emperor’s enemies whilst we are about it.”